Denver has a rich musical legacy. From the iconic John Denver and Firefall to birthing the original members of Earth Wind and Fire, Denver’s past has allowed the future of Denver music to prosper in a major way. In recent years, acts like Nathaniel Rateliff, GRiZ and OneRepublic have called The Mile High City home. The music experts at 303 Magazine have compiled a list of the Denver stars of today, artists on the rise and the local bands on our radar — together, they could make this city the next major music mecca.
Gregory Alan Isakov
South African singer-songwriter and Boulder resident Gregory Alan Isakov creates indie-folk music that lives and breathes. An incredibly touching songwriter at his core, Isakov is a rare breed that needs little more than a guitar to tell a story that will leave you in tears or with a massive smile etching its way across your face.
Husband-wife team Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore comprise the nostalgic pop of Tennis. Critical darlings and indie mainstays, the duo have toured the world many times over. All one needs to do is listen to indelible melodies of “Needle And A Knife” to know this band cuts deep.
Illenium hasn’t been in Denver terribly long, but in a relatively short amount of time, he has inspired a dedicated following for his euphoric EDM bangers. Selling out consecutive nights at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and venues across the city, Illenium — also known as Nicholas Miller — shakes the floor with low-frequency bass and shimmers in a neon decadence. Best known for his remixes of pop music favorites like Halsey and the Chainsmokers, Illenium attracts the ravers and the mainstream electronic music junkies with rabid enthusiasm.
Who knew that two people could make so much bombastically good music? Dominic Lalli (saxophone/producer) and Jeremy Salken (drums) are the members of Big Gigantic, a group they formed together in Boulder in the early 2000s. These two teamed up for their love of music and built a musical empire of devoted fans, or as they like to call their community, the "Big G Family." The group, coming from humble bedroom producer beginnings, has gone on to collaborate with big dogs like Logic and fellow Denverite and saxophone touting GRiZ and have their annually sold-out Rowdytown string of concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Esmé Patterson started off as a member of a Denver-group Paper Bird before deciding to go solo and share her original material with the music world. Her sound, a mix of folk and pop with a touch of indie, has led her to become a breakout star in Denver’s music scene and beyond. Patterson writes her own music and constantly collaborates with other artists like Shakey Graves to grow the volume of her sound while still being able to stand alone as a prominent force.
Funky and jammy, the Motet stick their feet in a number of genres in a way that ensures your swift arrival to the dancefloor. Founded in 1998, the now seven-piece band has delighted audiences around the country at a number of festivals and venues. The band, who have graced Red Rocks a number of times, have managed to cultivate a cult following in their famed Halloween shows — specifically because they are prone to covering a band and, in turn, dressing the part. Few bands are as consistently fun as The Motet, and in Denver, it’s anything but a secret.
This Denver hip-hop group continues to help the world through their music. Formed in 2000, Flobots found their success in 2007 with the release of "Flight with Tools," featuring their single "Handlebars." That same year they founded Flobots.org (now Youth On Record), an organization dedicated to empowering young people through creative education. Winners of countless awards for their work in the community, this group continues to give back through their service and music.
Denver Artists on the Rise
Rock ‘n' roll isn't dead thanks to bands like the Yawpers. This three-piece group from Denver picked their name from a Walt Whitman poem. The Yawpers play in a unique setup with one drummer and two acoustic guitars that make for a vivacious and addicting sound. The band has had everyone from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone Magazine talking about their disarming blend of frenetic punk and Americana — this is music that you can't sit still for.
What’s not to love about Wildermiss? The indie-pop band is a gift that keeps giving. Whether it's their raw and emotional tunes like breakout hit, “Carry Your Heart” or their continuously sold-out shows, Wildermiss is a complete package of a rising Denver band if there ever was one. With their sheer momentum and religious following, you’ll undoubtedly hear them far outside the encapsulation of the city.
SunSquabi has rapidly climbed the pantheon of electronic music in Denver since they played their first opening set in 2011. The trio, comprised of drummer Chris Anderson, bassist Andrew Clymer and lead guitarist Kevin Donohue, has found a home in a bass heavy, electronic funk mixology, reminiscent of fellow Denver contemporaries like GRiZ and Big Gigantic. Their work, culminating in last year's dual-headlining performance alongside OPIUO and the release of this year’s "Instinct," sees a group that’s only aiming up.
For all intents and purposes, Trev Rich is the reigning hip-hop hometown hero. From his mixtape days to being featured on the recent Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse official soundtrack, Trev Rich has had Denver rooting for him since day one. In a city with incredibly few hip-hop exports, most predominantly, the Flobots, Trev Rich is also one of Denver’s greatest hopes to buck that notion.
The long-haired rocker known as Brent Cowles has been shredding some good old-fashioned rock and roll for a while. Cowles, the son of a preacher, is one of the best upstarts to come out of the city. Formerly of the band You, Me and Apollo, Cowles found more fulfillment and purpose in the solo drive. This definitely shows, especially on Cowles acclaimed debut "How to Be Okay Alone."
Slow Caves is an indie-rock dream. Existing somewhere between blog discoveries of the early aughts and a breezy surf ethos, Slow Caves has taken off in Denver entirely on their own terms. Having played major festivals like SXSW and Treefort, Slow Caves seems all but destined to break through the mainstream as national indie darlings.
Much like Whitacre, LVDY has quickly risen to the forefront of Denver’s music scene. Their genre-bending music and their charismatic stage presence has nabbed Denver by the collar and hasn’t let go. Fresh off the release of their debut EP "Electricity," the momentum of the group doesn't seem to be slowing anytime soon.
Many have likened Oxeye Daisy to a present-day Cranberries. The powerhouse and magnetism of lead singer Lela Roy’s voice, anchored by the prowess of the band has paved a way for them to release one of last year’s most acclaimed local releases — their self-titled debut. The band isn’t beholden to genres or labels either, Oxeye Daisy keeps people guessing, but one thing's for sure, it's always thrilling.
Kayla Rae feels like Denver’s prodigal R&B daughter. A voice that’s as smooth as velvet with no shortage of pop sensibility and an image that is cooler than thou, Kayla Rae is the R&B star Denver desperately needs. Just listen to her song “Practice” and say she’s not a star in the making.
My Body Sings Electric
My Body Sings Electric shakes up the pop-rock genre, blending elements of post-hardcore, indie and pop music into fizzing earworms. The musical cocktail has paid off in opening slots with the likes of Imagine Dragons, Young the Giant and Bastille. The band most recently released a cover of Post Malone’s “I Fall Apart,” and if that’s any indication of the direction they could be headed in, we're definitely here for it.
Strange Americans serve up a hot dish of pure American rock ‘n' roll. The band makes blue-collar, truck-blaring music that seems to go hand in hand with the great American West. With amazing songwriting at the forefront and classic instrumentals that upheave all the emotions from their songs, Strange Americans need little more than the right one to take America by storm.
For fans of bluesy rock in the vein of acts like the Black Keys and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dragondeer is your local fix. With a southern-tinged tangle of slow-burning guitars and bass, thumping drums, a mean harmonica and lead singer Eric Halborg’s rumbling warble, Dragondeer has a sound that has and continues to infiltrate the ears of the masses — and its working to their favor. Most recently, releasing their first full-length record, "If You Got The Blues," Dragondeer pushed past many of their local contemporaries to become one of the most promising rock acts in the city, bar none.
BLASTS FROM THE PAST
Born Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., John Denver changed his last name in honor of his favorite state, Colorado. He was a renowned singer-songwriter as well as an actor, humanitarian and environmentalist. He died in 1997, but remains a popular acoustic artist and one of the best-selling artists of all time, including his ode to Colorado, "Rocky Mountain High." Hear more of his amazing music here.
Earth, Wind & Fire
Although this legendary band was formed in Chicago, three of its early members — Larry Dunn, Philip Bailey and Andrew Woolfolk — hailed from Colorado. In fact, they all attended Denver's East High School and continued to perform in the state long after graduation. EWF became one of the most successful bands of all time with hits like "September" and "Shining Star."
Boulder is known for many things, from an entrepreneurial hotspot to a foodie haven. It's also a place where famous bands have formed, including the rock group Firefall. The group was founded in 1974 and the name was derived by founding member Rick Roberts who was inspired by Yosemite Firefall, a summer tradition of dumping a cascade of flaming embers off of Glacier Point in California's Yosemite National Park. With such hits as "You Are the Woman" and "Just Remember I Love You," Firefall is a band Colorado is proud to be a part of.
Who doesn't start singing to the song "Green-Eyed Lady" when you hear it on the radio? American rock band Sugarloaf originated in Denver in the early 1970s. The band only lasted about five years before members went off to pursue other music careers, but we are thankful that they met in The Mile High City and graced us with some great rock tunes like "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You."